Monday, April 9, 2012


While I was in Amsterdam, I had an amazing conversation with a nice couple from England who were probably in their early 30s. The one thing that really struck me by surprise was when our conversation drifted towards their perceptions of America. One of their first and most emphasized beliefs was that the American police force is “scary”. They were convinced that police in America had way too much power and that they were incredibly strict and controlling. This perspective came at a complete surprise to me, as I never before really questioned the practicality and implications of the police system in America. Was there any merit to their beliefs? I don’t think so, but then again I haven’t really been paying much attention to the police force here. In fact, there are very few times where I even recall seeing Switzerland’s police force. Is that a sign of any societal difference, or simply the lack of personal attention to my surroundings? No, I don’t think it’s due to any lack of attention on my part.  Maybe Switzerland’s crime rate is a lot lower than that of the U.S. If that were the case, why does such a disparity exist in the first place? Is it because of the economy? Cultural differences? It could very well be both, but perhaps it has to do with our laws. I know a large part of the U.S. law enforcement budget is spent on the war against drugs. Switzerland has a much more liberal stance on drugs and doesn’t waste nearly as much resources on the matter. Even so, that alone shouldn’t account for these differences. Are the police in America really that scary to begin with? They aren’t really allowed to encroach upon us in any way that would come across as unfair—too many restrictions from the law. And even if they were somewhat “scary” or “strict”, would you even notice unless you were doing something wrong? It’s amazing how such a small comment from a stranger can evoke so many interesting thoughts and questions about a society that I previously unquestioningly accepted. The fact that this semester has been full of thoughts and experiences similar to these only makes my return the United States that much more exciting, as I look forward to personally examining the society that I had lived in for 20 years for the very first time.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Getting Around

It’s been at least 3 months or so that I’ve now been in Europe, and I’ve just realized that I have yet to enter a car since. What makes that so strange, is that I don’t think I have ever went 3 months in my entire life without being in a car at one point or another—and ironically I’ve been doing, by far, the most traveling that I have ever done throughout this time period. I also find it pretty interesting that I’ve managed traveling to dozens of foreign countries and cities with ease, and that the lack of an automobile was a concern that never crossed my mind. In fact, I think it would be somewhat of a burden to use a car in most of these cities. The roads in Europe are usually incredibly tight and complex, there is a lack of convenient parking spaces, and the gas here is ridiculously high. The European railway systems, however, are an entirely different story. The railway and metro systems here are so much more practical and convenient than any of those that I have encountered in America. It almost makes you wonder why the U.S hasn’t yet invested in advancing its subpar railway system. It may be due to the effective structural planning of most American cities which allows for more efficient use of automobiles. It may simply be due to the fact that American culture puts such a strong emphasis on people owning a car. Whatever the reason, I can say that I’m really enjoying this alternative mode of travel and that I’m really dreading the day that I’ll have to once again start paying 4 bucks for a gallon of gas.

Friday, March 23, 2012

My personal vendetta with European McDonalds

There is one issue with Europe that, country to country, has been bothering me to no end—and that issue is McDonalds. I’ve lived my entire life building a very intricate and personal relationship with this fast food chain, a relationship that I hold very dear to me. Unfortunately, living in Europe has somewhat soiled the age-old bond between Mickey Ds and I. At first glance, I was ready to embrace the European McDonalds with open arms; the restaurants are remarkably more modern and clean than their American counterparts, and their food seems to be made with more care and possibly fresher ingredients. However, the Europeans looked over the most important and defining quality of the franchise that enabled it for success—low prices. McDonalds was built on the entire premise of providing people with an option to obtain quick and affordable meals. The franchise’s quality of food isn’t the reason why people keep coming back, it’s the price. So when I walk into a McDonalds, I’m not thinking to myself “Gee, I can’t wait to indulge myself with this world-class cuisine”, but rather “God, I’m broke. Atleast McDonalds will always be there for me”. So when I was face to face with a $13 Big Mac mealand 30 cent ketchup packets in Switzerland, something deep down inside of me slowly started to die. Why are the prices so inflated here?! It goes against anything and everything that is McDonalds! The food definitely isn’t good enough to warrant such prices, so what in God’s name is making this acceptable? Is it because they want to take advantage of hungry American tourists? I doubt that’s the sole reason, as I see the establishments constantly filled to the brim with locals. A more likely reason is that they’re taking advantage of the poor souls who haven’t grown up to love and know McDonalds as it was meant to be. They are trying to benefit off of European ignorance, and I’m unfortunately getting caught up in the cross fire. So I say to the hell with European fast food! I’ll stick with off-brand Nutella and bread.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Occupy Davos

After visiting an Occupy camp outside of the World Economic forum in Davos, I can safely say that the Occupy movement’s biggest strength will eventually develop to be it’s biggest hindrance. The quality that I’m referring to is the movement’s leaderless structure. It’s important to mention that the absence of leadership worked extremely well in the early stages of the Occupy movement. When dealing with concerns that encompass such a broad scope of government and society, any attempts of centralization would have been somewhat detrimental to the movement’s progress. The lack of a central, solidified leader or objective allows the movements goals and ambitions to be molded specifically for an individuals own specific qualms and concerns—so long as it is somewhat related to the overall theme of the Occupy movement. This allows the Occupy movement to not only have access to a significantly larger support base but also speeds up the growth of the movement as well. So in terms of garnering public attention, the first and arguably most difficult step of a movement, this trait has worked incredibly well. However, the movement is now at a point where the attention gathering stage is over; the entire world has taken notice and the question is now, what are they to do with this attention? Every movement’s sole purpose is to evoke some kind of change, and unfortunately for the Occupy movement, their lack of leadership is hindering their ability to do just that. How are they to efficiently use their unique following for change when the movement’s goals are so broad and undefined? On that note, how are they to even communicate such needs to the public without an experienced and knowledgeable representative? These concerns were all but blatantly apparent at the World Economic Forum. During a seminar that was specifically dedicated to the attempt of patching up the inherent flaws of capitalism, a special seat was reserved for one representative of the Occupy movement. This fact alone does a perfect job of emphasizing just how well their current leaderless structure has served them in regards to public attention. Watching the seminar play out, however, displayed just how detrimental this structure is to their ability to garner change. Instead of using the seat to engage in productive and meaningful discussion, they used that privilege to destroy the order and efficiency of the forum. Interruptions and distractions were abundant throughout the audience, as the many occupy protestors attending the conference couldn’t resist the urge to disrupt the discussion to proclaim their own personal dissatisfactions. To make matters worse, there wasn’t one protestor present that was able to contribute any productive input towards the forum’s discussion. When presented with an opportunity, Occupy Davos was unable to step beyond the stages of protest and produce anything of value. In fact, the only thing they accomplished was to leave the audience and guest speakers with the impression that the Occupy movement is full of retards—unfortunately, without a known centralized leader or representative of the movement, we were left with little other choice.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Blog assignment: Shared Leadership

There were several things that I found interesting about the theory of shared leadership. Unlike traditional views of leadership, shared leadership focuses on the internal dynamics and relationships of mutual team members rather than the influence of a single external individual. In this theory, leadership influence is distributed freely among several different members of the team depending on the given circumstances. While I can understand several of the key points made throughout the paper, I believe that the authors are sometimes mistaking leadership for proper team cooperation. When a team of individuals that share the same goals and interests are put together—especially when there is a lack of an external leader—there will inherently be moments where different individuals positively effect the motivation and performance of others. How could a motivated group of people sharing a common goal make any progress without doing otherwise? The entire purpose of a team is to take the unique efforts, abilities, and desires of different individuals and mold them together to achieve things that wouldn’t have been possible for a single person. To say that the positive interactions between these individuals are attributed to any sign of leadership is to discount the very reasons why they were grouped together in the first place. That is why the theory was described so fluidly and entailed the leadership roles as consistently changing. If there were any sign of true leadership, I don’t believe the roles would flow about so easily. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Thoughts on Amsterdam

          On a purely physical level, I didn’t find Amsterdam very impressive. While the city boasts an interesting canal system and a few notable buildings, I never had a moment where I was overwhelmed by it’s beauty. I actually found myself continuously getting lost throughout the city as everywhere seemed to look the same. But that is irrelevant. What makes Amsterdam special, as most people know, are it’s unique laws and customs. Amsterdam’s tolerance towards several societal taboos creates a distinct and interesting atmosphere that can be felt throughout the entire city; street’s are plagued with countless sex/smart shops, entire blocks are dedicated towards showcasing women through red, neon-tinged glass, and random gusts of wind casually carry the faint but distinctive smell of marijuana. It’s undeniable that Amsterdam truly has an ambiance unlike any other. What drives this ambiance, however, is an interesting matter to discuss.
While the presence of taboo shops and practices does contribute to the city’s distinct atmosphere, it’s important to note that this contribution is attributed solely to the sheer saturation of these themes. If Amsterdam still carried the same laws and customs, but the number of these shops were reduced to 1 or 2 every mile or so, the city would have a completely different feel. With that said, I see the unique vibe of the city as not a direct relation to it’s laws and customs, but rather as a result stemming from these practices becoming a glaring theme of the city. Now this leads me to the question of how such a theme came about in the first place. While partaking in a guided tour of the city, I learned an interesting fact; the percentage of local drug users in Amsterdam falls notoriously short to that of other popular cities. So despite the fact that the city boasts some of the world’s most liberal drug laws, the locals are less inclined to use these drugs than residents living in other, more conservative cities. If that were the case, how then would such a city become world-renowned for drugs and sex? The answer is simple—tourism. Amsterdam’s unique policies attract millions of visitors a year, from all across the world. Similar to how a person is often bombarded by friends if they open a pack of gum in the wrong place, people flock to Amsterdam to experience novelties that are not otherwise available in their respective countries. So an interesting scenario occurs where a place is defined not necessarily by it’s culture, traditions, or people, but rather by the desire and tendencies of those who visit. With that said, what does this say about Amsterdam’s taboo vibe? Is it derived from anything particular of the city, or is it rather a reflection of something much larger? And would you even consider such a vibe as negative? Another interesting fact that I picked up from the tour was that Amsterdam is ranked 13th in the world for quality of living, and 3rd in the world for innovation. So despite being a cesspool of the world’s desire to indulge in drugs and sex, the city still thrives and societal issues such as crime and public health are comparable to some of the best in the world. What does this imply about our perceptions of these practices? Are the inherent negative connotations soundly justified—and if not, why do they even exist? It seems the more I break it down, the more I come to realize that Amsterdam is not simply a city—it’s so much more than that. It’s one of the few places in the world that is defined not solely by its intrinsic qualities, but rather by the beliefs, practices, and desires of the outside world. Whether thats a good or bad thing is an entirely different story. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Living large in Lugano

Today I explored the beautiful city of Lugano with three friends from the program. Our goal, more or less, was to reflect on Lugano's unique history while acquiring a cultural and geographical taste of the city. We aimed to pursue the latter by traveling atop Monte San Salvatore, which, resting 3000 ft above the city, offers arguably the best view in Lugano. The trip would require us to take a funicular just outside of Paradiso, which is generally about a 20 minute walk from the main station. Upon starting our journey towards the lift, we decided to cut through Via Nassa, one of Lugano's more historical and renowned streets. As we walked by $24,000 Rolexes and $8,000 dresses, the opulence of the area became obnoxiously clear. Plagued with designer shops and boutiques, Via Nassa typifies the city's heavy reliance of the tourist elite. Thriving off a strong combination of banking and tourism, Lugano has garnered the nickname "The Monte Carlo of Switzerland" by attracting the wealthiest of athletes, entertainers, and politicians. Seemingly every other neck was decorated with Burberry plaid, Louis Vuitton purses were more common than not, and the occasional large fur coat would gracefully flow up and down the street.  However, what really took me by surprise was spotting a collection of cell phones that ranged from $5,000 to $9,000! In the U.S, I have never seen a cell phone cost anymore than a few hundred bucks. Regardless of how ostentatious or wealthy an American is, the best you'll see them with is the most current iPhone. This cultural difference further emphasizes just how important designer brands and similar tokens of wealth are to the Euro elite.
Mind if I make a quick call?

After throwing down a couple thousand for some fresh Prada socks, we made our way to Lake Lugano and continued our walk along the water's edge. Blanketed by a light morning fog, the calm waters of Lake Lugano offered a sense of serenity that can match up to some of the more beautiful lakes of the world. Once you avert your gaze back to the opposite direction, however, the banging and grinding of Lugano's construction-filled streets quickly wake you to reality. It amazes me how such a juxtaposition can exist in this city.

After about half an hour of walking through the morning streets of Lugano, we arrived to the outskirts of Paradiso. The swarm of designer logos and patterns had long ago vanished, and we were now in an area of the city that was suited for the more average income residents. Local bars and restaurants were found at every corner, accompanied by the occasional budget-friendly clothing store. The streets wore the dirt and cracks typical of a regular city, and the buildings merely complemented the look. After arriving to the funicular and realizing that it's actually closed until mid-May, we stood defeated, trying to think of a possible alternative to our seemingly brilliant plan. It was then when we decided to walk across the street to the London Pub, grab a few expressos, and try our luck with the locals. Assuming that bartenders seem to usually have a unique insight of their city's history and culture, we attempted to try and communicate with our bartender to gain any possible recommendations. Unfortunately, although it was called the "London Pub", the lady serving us didn't speak a lick of English, so we used a combination of Italian, French, Spanish, and flailing arm signals to communicate. After 10 minutes of  painstakingly hazy communication, we finally explained our intentions and after some thought she suggested that we visit the city's tourism office.

Church of S. Maria degli Angioli being pushed to
side by an upcoming hotel.
Deciding against the bartender's suggestion, we went to visit a small church that we passed along our way to Paradiso. Built in the 16th century, the Church of S. Maria degli Angioli is located on the corner of a block at the end of Via Nassa. Showing the signs of several centuries of aging, the small, austere church seemed incredibly out of place among the surrounding luxuries of Via Nassa. Even to its immediate left, a lavish grand hotel was being built practically atop the church's shoulder. The inside of the church didn't prove any more extravagant, and seemed as if it was in desperate need of restoration work. The sounds of clashing metal could be heard throughout the building, and the vibrations of a jackhammer could be felt along the left-side wall. Regardless, as we sat within the church for a small rest, we witnessed several people come inside and kneel in prayer among the faded music of construction. I began to wonder whether the lack of extravagant and over-the-top design prevented the church from garnering the same respect as the two larger churches in the city (the Cathedral of S. Lorenzo, and the Church of S. Rocco).

Tupac graffiti found in downtown Lugano
We decided that our final destination for the day should be the city's university. After asking a few locals for directions, we headed our way towards downtown Lugano. Upon arriving, it was clear that this area of the city had its own distinct personality from the other areas that we've seen. It was alive, bustling, and vibrant. Modern graffiti decorated the walls of buildings and stickers advertised the occupy movement at seemingly every corner. It was also lunch time, and locals of all ages crowded the pavements of the city. The cafe bars were flooded, high-schoolers hung out among the shopping centers, and music lingered through the air as musicians played in the streets. The atmosphere was so energetic and lively that we couldn't help but to immerse ourselves among the people of Lugano; we window shopped among other students, looking at the crazy costumes for carnival; we stopped to get some local food at a street stand; and we went in the local bakery to smell the freshly cooked loaves of bread. It was truly an amazing experience to see this city unexpectedly come to life as the locals simply enjoyed themselves during their lunch break. We never did reach the university, but that didn't matter. Our goal was to experience a part of Lugano's culture, and there it was, moving vibrantly all around us.